Editor's note: We know we are not seeing every incident of hate and bias in U.S. schools, as many students with marginalized identities see their bullying or harassment go unreported or unrepresented. So we’re asking for your help. If you know of an incident occurring in your school, please email email@example.com.
Reports of hate may have slowed, but they did not stop during the summer months. Even though most students across the nation were out of school, 13 incidents from eight states surfaced in July.
In at least three of the incidents, adults were the ones spreading hateful ideas. In Norfolk, Virginia, a school’s Teacher of the Year denigrated her students on her personal Facebook page. Before a field trip, she announced that she was heading to the zoo “with my 60 middle school kids from the hood. Fair Warning!!”
In Sutherlin, Oregon, a mother is suing her 15-year-old son’s school district and its administrators, claiming he felt “uncomfortable and anxious when a transgender student used the boys’ bathroom.” Her lawsuit claims schools should “have students use bathrooms and changing rooms based on their biology, not their gender identity.”
And in San Diego, parents and local organizations are suing the San Diego Unified School District. The district’s offense? Creating an “anti-Islamophobia” program with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) with the goal of educating students about Islam and protecting Muslim students from bullying. The parents’ attorney argues the “district should be looking out for all students, regardless of religion or ethnicity or gender or anything else.”
In addition to these incidents, July saw several occasions in which community members spoke up about the continued, systemic racism they witnessed on campuses from coast to coast.
At an El Cajon, California, middle school, CAIR called for the firing of the principal and an investigation after the school failed to respond to the continuous bullying of a Muslim student for more than a year. Ultimately, the bullying spilled off campus and turned to assault when a group of students followed the Muslim student home, yelled racist slurs, tore off her hijab, and physically attacked her and her parents.
In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the NAACP and CAIR reported a “spirit of racism.” As evidence, they pointed to several racist incidents in the county’s schools, including a teacher’s use of the n-word.
And at a school in Le Center, Minnesota, the godparent of two students urged officials to address rampant racism on campus. Reported incidents include students’ use of the n-word and threats to send the Ku Klux Klan to black students’ homes. Students were allegedly calling African-American students names such as “rat” and “Afro” and touching Black students’ hair without permission. Students also called Mexican American students “illegals” and chanted, “Build the wall.”
In Rochester, New York, a student made her frustrations with the racism she’s experienced in the district known during a school board meeting. She’d previously posted a YouTube video to express her frustrations, including how a classroom was separated between black students—those who needed academic help—and white students—those deemed “achievers.” She also noted that black students faced more punitive consequences than their white peers for lesser infractions.
Social media continues to be a tool for students to espouse hate, even during the summer. Seven female students from a Millbury, Massachusetts, school participated in a group chat during which a message included the n-word. It was shared on social media after a girl hacked into the account and screen shot the comments. In Durham, North Carolina, a high school student posted a video on social media filled with sexist and racist comments, including the n-word.
The summer break also included incidents of racist and anti-Semitic vandalism at schools, often on sports fields. The n-word was painted on a school utility vehicle and on the football field press box at a Hanover County, Virginia, school. On a football field in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a swastika was burned into the grass. And at a Tomball, Texas, school, a swastika was spray-painted on a track along with the words “colored” and “whites only.” The word “only” was underlined.
Given the number of incidents like these over the last year, it’s no wonder that some students dread the end of summer more than others. In Valley City, North Dakota, a 14-year-old black girl reports being afraid to return to school after a year of racist threats from a white student. That student made whipping sounds at her, claimed to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan and threatened “to rope her behind a truck.”
Our children shouldn’t be afraid to go to school. Schools must take seriously the harm these incidents inflict—not only on their targets but on all students whose identities are marginalized. Every moment that an educator fails to interrupt hate, every day that identity-based bullying is allowed to continue, the damages compound. These incidents must be recognized, acknowledged and addressed when they occur. This summer shows what happens when we leave hate to fester.
Dillard is a staff writer for Teaching Tolerance. To report a hate incident happening at your school or community, email firstname.lastname@example.org.